And yes, videogames are not the only medium to get caught up in the wonderful world of “information overload”. The Nintendo Entertainment System, held to reverence and acclaim by contemporary audiences, saw roughly 700 official releases in its ten years on the American market. Today, Valve’s Steam distribution service sees that number of releases every six months or so. Digital services and companies eager to undermine the traditional publishing circle have forced the masters of game design to compete with the amateur flavor of the month, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of terrible-tasting flavors. So what should you do? How do you manage the glut?
Before we do that, there’s one thing we should point out: While there are certainly more releases today, it’s the classification and categorization of games that has thrown a wrench into the gears. Back before the internet got popular, many of these “games” were simply a subset of another. So even if Aliens TC was most certainly its own game, and did more to blur a line from the Doom engine than a commercial release like Heretic, most players thought of Aliens TC as a subset of Doom. And only if the game became popular enough—whether Counter-Strike, Defense of the Ancients, or elsewise—did players upgrade that “mod” to the distinction of “full-fledged game”.
Basically, the hierarchy for games was much cleaner and elegant. The concepts and ideas that once existed in the Doom engine, the Warcraft III engine, or flash game sites like Newgrounds were once confined to their own ecosystem, the countless games within that world confined to a “single game”. And if you weren’t playing the game which provided a foundation for those other games, they didn’t exist. Of course, the internet has now blurred those hierarchies, and the ideas that once existed in those ecosystems—their own little backwater—can now get the Valve or Nintendo Seal of Approval.
But look at how much of videogame history we’ve already swept under the rug. Nobody bothers with most of the early console games and nearly the entire portable videogame market, for the simple reason there are versions or variants of those games which were developed for superior hardware. Or, quite notably, there is a catalog of games spanning the pre-Angry Birds mobile world, a catalog that has been abandoned without a second thought, a world where the differing hardware and carrier standards make much of the emulation nearly impossible. Even the most zealous videogame archivist has a tough time mustering the attention for games which were never worth our time in the first place.
In other words, we already filter content with our own intuition, we already know that hoarding, whether digital or elsewise, is something to be frowned upon. And until we get the benevolent supercomputer that strikes down terrible games, or a digital world where large companies can actually enforce quality control, the digitally-distributed world that blurs the line between platforms and ecosystems just means you’re going to have to be a little bit smarter about it.
And you want to know how to do that? Play excellent games. Learn their lessons. Read smart games writing from smart games writers. Educate yourself on the topic, to the point where it becomes enjoyable and routine to do so. Once you’ve done this, you will find there are entire swaths of videogames which you can cast to the side without much of a thought, because you will know the red flags when you stumble across them. The content filter must emerge from inside your own mind. And as difficult as today’s release schedule may make this, once you’ve developed that eye and confidence, you can quickly realize when something is never worth your time ever.
Because if you want to do away with the world where everyone is entitled to make a game—and continues to prove that democracy sucks—then you would have to blow up the internet. You’d have to blow up the distribution model that allows anyone to publish a game and revert back to the pre-2007 world where publishers ruled the industry. And unfortunately, I don’t have that much dynamite. It is an inevitable reality of the twenty-first century and it’s something you’re going to have to live with. Those are the rules, man up.